Protective Helmet Suspension and Retention System
Navy SBIR 2014.2 - Topic N142-085
MARCOR - Ms. Elizabeth Madden -
Opens: May 23, 2014 - Closes: June 25, 2014

N142-085 TITLE: Protective Helmet Suspension and Retention System

TECHNOLOGY AREAS: Materials/Processes

ACQUISITION PROGRAM: PM IWS PdM Infantry Combat Equipment (ICE)

OBJECTIVE: Development of a suspension and retention system that improves the protective capabilities of Marine Corps helmets by increasing the blunt impact protection capability during a low velocity impact event and decreasing the ballistic energy transferred through the helmet to the head during a high velocity impact event.

DESCRIPTION: The current helmet suspension system utilizes a pad suspension system that has not been updated since it was fielded in 2006. While the helmet shell material has been and continues to be improved, the helmet suspension and retention systems have not been updated to account for the increased amount of ballistic energy that these improved helmet shells are now able to withstand. Additionally, the current suspension and retention systems were not designed to protect against the head injuries caused by the increased number of blasts from Improvised Explosive Devices. Research has shown that pad suspension systems are more beneficial for low velocity/blunt impact events rather than high velocity impacts and blast events. During a low velocity or blunt impact event, the pad system acts as a cushion for the head by compressing and absorbing the energy from the impact. During a high velocity impact event, a pad system alone does not have enough time to compress, and thus is able to absorb little of the energy from the impact. Additionally, pad systems are susceptible to temperature variations, becoming hard at cold temperature and soft at high temperatures. New concussion data coupled with changes in the operating environment and improvements to helmet shell materials have necessitated a change to the helmet suspension and retention system to better protect the warfighter against head injuries. The Marine Corps is preparing to field a new helmet, the Enhanced Combat Helmet, which provides improved fragmentation and ballistic protection against select small arms over previous helmets. As previously discussed, the increased protection offered by the new helmet shell technology has necessitated improvements to the suspension and retention system in order to dissipate the increased amount of ballistic energy that the improved helmet shell is able to withstand.

For this reason, the Marine Corps seeks to explore innovative approaches to an innovative helmet suspension and retention system in order to improve head protection during both low and high velocity impact events as well as blast events in an effort to reduce and/or prevent concussions and skull fractures caused by blast, blunt and ballistic trauma to the head. This effort presents a challenge in that optimizing performance in one of the areas of blast, blunt, or ballistic protection tends to be counterproductive to optimizing other areas. An additional challenge is the desire to achieve this enhanced protection without impacting the weight, size, stability and comfort of the helmet shell. Concepts proposed should be mindful of the following requirements:

- Integration and attachment: Able to integrate with the existing Marine Corps family of helmet shells without reducing or changing the area of coverage provided by the helmet shell. The desire is to have a single concept that is retrofittable to the family of helmet shells rather than a unique solution for each helmet shell. Proposed concepts shall possess a means of easy attachment, removal and reattachment to the inside of the helmet shell and shall remain firmly in place when attached. Use of the existing retention points is of particular interest so as not to introduce new holes in the helmet shells.

- Comfort: Provide a level of comfort that is greater than or equal to the current suspension and retention system, shall provide a means to manage heat and perspiration buildup inside the helmet, and prevent hot spots/pressure points from developing after prolonged use.

- Stability: The proposed system concept shall provide a level of stability that is greater than or equal to the current suspension and retention system, and shall prevent the helmet from shifting position on the head during routine mission scenarios.

- Blunt Impact: The proposed system concept shall prevent head acceleration from exceeding 150 G at all impact velocities less than or equal to 17.1 ft/sec [T], 20 ft/sec [O] for a minimum of two impacts at temperatures ranging from 32° to 130° F.

- Ballistic Energy Dissipation: The proposed system concept shall not allow the impact force from a ballistic event to exceed an average force impulse of 0.650 lbf-s [T], 0.500 lbf-s [O] when impacted by a projectile with a mass of 124 grains at 1325 ft/s.

- Blast Protection: The proposed system concept shall maintain the position of the helmet on the head during and after exposure to a 5 pound blast at distances greater than or equal to 3 meters.

- Weight and Cost: The weight of the proposed system concept, to include all attachment hardware, shall not exceed 0.50 pounds and not raise the overall center of gravity of the helmet system. The production cost goal of the proposed system should not exceed $100/system.

PHASE I: Develop concepts for a protective helmet suspension and retention system that meets the requirements described above. Demonstrate the feasibility of the concepts in meeting Marine Corps needs and establish that the concepts can be developed into a useful product for the Marine Corps. Feasibility will be established by analytical modeling and bench top testing, as appropriate. The company will provide a Phase II development plan with performance goals and key technical milestones. The company will be expected to, at a minimum, address projected ability to meet the blunt impact and ballistic energy dissipation requirement, stability and comfort considerations taken into account in the design development process, any anticipated manufacturing considerations, as well as projected weight and projected cost.

PHASE II: Based on the results of Phase I and the Phase II development plan, the small business will develop a scaled prototype for evaluation. The prototype will be provided to the Marine Corps for verification and user evaluation to determine its capability in meeting the performance goals defined in the Phase II development plan. System performance including the ability to integrate with Marine Corps helmets will be demonstrated through prototype evaluation and modeling or analytical methods over the required range of parameters. Evaluation results will be used to refine the prototype into an initial design that will meet Marine Corps requirements. The company will prepare a Phase III development plan including a manufacturing plan to transition the technology to Marine Corps use. The company will also develop packaging and an instruction sheet that details the sizing, installation, use and care of the system.

PHASE III: If Phase II is successful, the company will be expected to support the Marine Corps in transitioning the technology for Marine Corps use. The company will finalize the design and corresponding technical data package and provide for user evaluation to determine the systems’ effectiveness in an operationally relevant environment. The company will optimize the manufacturing plan as required and support the Marine Corps validation to certify and qualify the system for Marine Corps use.

PRIVATE SECTOR COMMERCIAL POTENTIAL/DUAL-USE APPLICATIONS: In addition to the military market, the design approach could have applicability in commercial helmets such as motorcycle helmets and sports helmets. The increased blunt impact protection as well as the reduced susceptibility to hot and cold temperatures would make this more robust system attractive to commercial markets.

1. Enhanced Combat Helmet,

2. PM Infantry Combat Equipment (ICE) Website,

3. "Expanding Helmet Design Methodologies Through Brain Functional Area Representative Threat Models," Proceedings of the ASME 2013 International Mechanical Engineering Congress & Exposition, IMECE2013 November 15-21, 2013, San Diego, California IMECE2013-64959, available at

4. "Impact Response of US Army and National Football League Helmet Pad Systems," 4 January 2011 William C. Moss and Michael J. King Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Livermore, CA 94550 LLNL-SR-464951.

5. Draft Purchase Description for the Enhanced Combat Helmet, 23 October 2013, GL-PD-09-04J.

KEYWORDS: Helmet; Head Protection; Suspension System; Retention System; Blunt Impact; Ballistic Energy Dissipation

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